Something rotten in the hills of Karbi Anglong

Times of India
DIPHU: For years, corruption has become the hallmark of politics in the hills of Assam. The region has even seen siphoning off of development funds to underground militants by politicians. In the North Cachar Hills Council alone, crores of rupees were diverted to Jewel Garlossa’s Dima Halam Daogah (DHD-J). In Karbi Anglong too, there have been allegations of similar misappropriation of government money.

Fed up with such uncontrolled corruption, voters have grown indifferent towards the election process. They seem to be more interested in talking about corruption than the upcoming assembly elections. “Sir, one has to pay 10 per cent for any contract or supply work,” says T Majumdar, an auto-rickshaw driver in Diphu. “Yeh to sirf paiso ka khel hain,” he replies curtly when asked about the possible results of the April polls.

The messy affairs in the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council came to the fore last year when it was found that crores meant for the development of the district were siphoned off to DHD militants, also known as Black Widow rebels. Worse, some politicians and government officials were allegedly involved in the sinister design. “If Rs 1,000 crore was siphoned off from the NC Hills council, the amount that has vanished from the Karbi Hills council may be three-times more,” says another villager on condition of anonymity.

And the party that has been accused for the mess in the impoverished Karbi Anglong is the ruling Congress.

Even a die hard Congress supporter in Diphu will admit that there’s corruption everywhere be it in allotment of contract work or distribution of blankets to the needy. The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, now run by Congress, is the soul of Karbi Anglong district, but there are allegations of corruption eating up its soul. And this is becoming a major issue in the run-up to the April polls.

“I am an elected member of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and I know that funds provided to the council are not properly utilized. Ask any villager, they know what’s going on here. Besides the peace agreement with the banned United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), corruption is definitely another issue that will dominate the election in the Karbi hills,” says George Millick, the common candidate for Diphu constituency fielded by the People’s Alliance for Peace Agreement (PAPA), a platform of 54 political and non-political organizations.

Millick had resigned from the Congress to join the People’s Alliance for Peace Agreement. “It is ten per cent everywhere to get a contract or supply work. Only 40 per cent of the funds released for a project reach the beneficiaries and the remaining 60 per cent go missing,” he says, accusing the council’s executive members of allotting contract work to their kin.

Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council chief executive member Joy Ram Engleng, however, rejects the allegations made by Millick. “There’s no substance in these charges. Opposition parties are raking up such issues in a desperate bid to reap political mileage ahead of the elections. They can only bring in such charges, but can’t prove anything. If they are confident, why don’t they file an official complaint? Let there be an investigation,” he argues.

Engleng is, perhaps, right in one way there should be an investigation. For, the CBI took up the corruption cases in six departments of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council following opposition’s demand when the sorry state of affairs there became public. Though the CBI investigation is still on, the National Investigation Agency had filed chargesheets in two cases against 16 people, including politicians and government servants, for allegedly handing over crores meant for developmental in NC Hills to the Black Widow militants. The rebels had got the money to buy arms. In one chargesheet, 16 people were named while the other had accused 14 others. The accused included former NC Hills Autonomous Council chief executive member Mohet Hojai, DHD(J) chairman Jewel Garlosa and commander-in-chief Niranjan Hojai.

But when it comes to the Karbi Anglong council, Engleng defends its functioning saying that government funds that reach the local administrative body a year is less than Rs 300 crore. “It’s not even enough for Karbi Anglong, which is one of the biggest districts in the country with 10 lakh people. Our council does not even enjoy direct Central funding as all funds are routed through the state government. But there’s always an inordinate delay in releasing the funds from Dispur. As a result, budgetary allocations for Karbi Anglong cannot be made on time,” he claims.

Besides those in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, all four sitting MLAs, including hill areas development minister Khor Sing Engti, in the district are from Congress. But, it’s the ruling Congress that has become the common target of all opposition parties ahead of the elections. And their common ammo is the alleged funds scam.

“If the NC Hills financial scam is worth Rs 1000 crore, it will be much bigger in Karbi Anglong. The amount that has been swindled by the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council members will run up to at least Rs 3,000 crore,” says Dharam Sing Teron, a former MLA and a leader of the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC). Of the total hill areas development funds sanctioned by the state government, 30 per cent go to Dima Hasao and the rest to Karbi Anglong. Ratan Teron, the chief of the BJP’s Karbi Anglong unit, alleges that if Congress can misappropriate Rs 1000 crore in NC Hills, the scam will be of much higher scale in Karbi Anglong. The BJP has been seeking a CBI probe into various departments of the Karbi council. “Development funds have vanished. The only development that one can see in Diphu are huge buildings, expensive cars and rubber farms owned by certain politicians,” Ratan says.

“The Congress, which is in power both in Dispur and the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, has never done anything to change the lives of the impoverished tribals. The Congress only uses its money power during elections to woo them. But the situation may not be same this time as tribals are now getting more enlightened and they are gearing up to use their electoral power against rampant corruption in the hills,” he says.

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